For this 30th edition we did something no Challenge has done before: go north of the Severn, to the southern flank of The Wrekin. The 66 mile route rounds the Brown Clee, crosses the Iron Bridge, affords tremendous views of the Stretton Hills and straddles Wenlock Edge.
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After leaving Ludlow, you head north up the bucolically tranquil Corvedale, The Hope to your right and Wenlock Edge to your left. Then Shropshire’s highest hill, the Brown Clee, appears to your right. Bouldon is home to community pub The Tally-Ho.
The first real climb of the day takes you to the 12th century Heath Chapel: even if you don’t need to pause after your climbing exertions, it’s worth it to look at what the National Heritage List for England describes as “nationally very remarkable as it has remained substantially unaltered in use, status, size and style”.
The next few kilometres around Abdon are the wildest of a less-wild-than-normal Highland Challenge route. The bracken massif of Brown Clee to your right as you climb can’t fail to impress, and you soon glimpse today’s destination, The Wrekin, ahead on your left. After a fast descent to and through the once important quarrying village of Ditton Priors, remember to stop at its Village Hall for the 1st refreshments.
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Refreshed, you now have some challenging lanes, including the descent into Monkhopton where Sudford, Hudwick and Stapeley Dingles combine, with a poorly surfaced road bending sharply as you descend.
For relief, there’s a pleasantly flattish and and relatively well-surfaced lane to Bourton, from where you climb on the B4378 before an exhilarating descent into Much Wenlock. You go along the historic one-way High Street, before climbing and then descending to Ironbidge via Benthall. Bridge Road takes you steeply down to the world’s first cast iron bridge, built in 1779 by Abraham Darby. you are welcome to dismount on the bridge to admire it and the River Severn below. Ironbridge should look a lot more benign that it did during the floods here in February.
Soon you leave the Severn, turning right to Coalbrookdale, home of Darby’s iron works. You then follow National Cycle Route 45 up the long climb to Little Wenlock, you are rewarded with lunch at its Village Hall.
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The next few kilometres are a delight as, still on Route 45, you descend round the Wrekin massif to your right and begin to see the Stretton Hills ahead of you. These hills appear and disappear frequently from now on.
Descending from Eaton Constantine to re-cross the Severn at Cressage, you cross the busy A458 and take a lane climbing to Acton Burnell. Wenlock Edge should be very apparent to your left. Acton Burnell Castle, a 13th century fortified Manor House reputed to have hosted an early Parliament in 1283, is partly visible on your left. The lovely lane south out of Acton Burnell affords more fine views of Caer Caradoc and Hope Bowdler and soon you turn left past Langley Chapel. Architecture buffs may want to stop at the fieldgate to see this rare 1601 chapel but all riders can’t fail to see what remains of Langley Hall incorporated into the farmhouse on your right.
After a sharp climb up Maypole Bank you descend to the crossroads hosting Church Preen School, next to which is Church Preen & Hughley Village Hall, where you will find your third and final refreshment stop.
Soon you turn to climb (pleasantly!) to Plaish, where the chimneys and topiary of Plaish Hall, a largely 16th century country house, compete for your attention.
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Then you contour via Gretton on lanes to Wall-under-Heywood before a delightful five kilometres under Wenlock Edge, criss-crossing the old railway line, to Harton.
This is the final heave of the day, the steep climb over Wenlock Edge at Harton Hollow. From then on it’s plain sailing. The descent via Westhope along Seifton Bache will tempt you to ride faster than it’s probably safe to to do so, but you are now on the home stretch. The B4365 takes you speedily through Culmington and Ludlow Racecourse, and the A49 takes you back into Ludlow and the Rugby Club.
106km/66 miles and 1,425m/4,675 ft of ascent completed. Now, where will 2023’s route take you!?